Australian laws provide that the parents of children are financially responsible for them, regardless of whether or not the parents were married or in a relationship when their child was born, and irrespective of the parents’ involvement in their child’s life.
Child support comprises the regular financial contributions a parent makes towards the welfare and maintenance of their child. It is typically paid to the parent or eligible care-giver with primary care of the child. The assessment and payment of child support is governed by the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989.
Private arrangements for child support
Payments for child support may be managed privately without Government intervention. In such cases the parents decide between themselves how much child support will be paid, and how and when payments will be made. Payments might include regular contributions, lump sums, or periodic payments for expenses such as school fees or health insurance.
A private arrangement can be documented by way of a limited child support agreement or a binding child support agreement. There are specific criteria that have to be met to ensure the effectiveness of the agreement and these differ depending on whether you are entering into a limited or binding child support agreement. We therefore recommend that you seek legal advice about the different types of agreements and how these might impact on you before agreeing to a private arrangement.
Self-managed child support arrangements may also impact Centrelink payments like Family Tax Benefits. In such cases, we recommend obtaining advice to understand how any entitlements may be affected.
Applying for a Child Support Assessment
Parents seeking child support payments may apply for assessment through Australia’s child support agency, Child Support – Services Australia (“CSA”).
The amount of child support payable varies according to your particular circumstances and is decided upon using a formula that takes into account a number of factors relating to your income and living circumstances and is administered by CSA.
When is child support payable?
Generally, child support is payable for all children until they turn 18 years of age. This includes adopted children, children born from artificial conception or through surrogacy arrangements and children from same sex relationships.
The agency must be satisfied that both parents are the legal parents of the child before assessing an application. This may be shown by providing a copy of the birth certificate, adoption papers, court order or statutory declaration by the person claiming to be a parent.
In some cases, parentage may be challenged through a court and/or DNA testing. These matters can be complex, and in such cases, we recommend guidance from an experienced family lawyer.
Non-parent carers who care for a child may also be eligible to apply for child support from one or both of the child’s parents.
Children over 18 years
Generally, the legal obligation to pay child support ends when a child turns 18 or completes school, whichever is later. If a child turns 18 during the year that he or she is completing secondary school, then an application can be made to extend the assessment until the child finishes.
In some circumstances, child maintenance may be payable for children over 18 years who are engaged in fulltime tertiary studies, or who have a physical or mental disability. Applications for child maintenance for adult children are made under the Family Law Act and any payments ordered by the court can be collected through the agency. In such applications, the financial and special needs of the child will be taken into consideration as well as a range of other factors in determining whether maintenance is payable.
Applications for adult child maintenance through the court can be complex and expensive, so it is important to be guided by an experienced legal professional.
How is child support calculated?
The amount of child support payable can vary over time because of changes in the financial or personal circumstances of the parents or child.
The formula used to calculate child support payments is quite complex and provides flexibility to consider a range of factors. Generally, these factors include:
- the combined income of the parents
- the respective income of each parent
- the length of time the child spends with each parent
- the costs of raising children relative to specific age ranges and the capacity for the parents to meet those costs
- each parent’s responsibility for supporting other children
- the age of the child and other children in the care of each parent
- the basic living needs of each parent
Can I object to a decision made by Child Support?
Sometimes a child support assessment may not fully consider the special or unusual needs of a child, or the circumstances of a parent or carer. Alternatively, parents who pay child support may have a change in circumstances since the assessment which now makes it difficult to meet these payments. This could occur, for example, through the job loss or other incapacity of the payer.
In such cases, either parent may be able to apply for a reassessment of child support and both will be notified in writing of the decision reached. If either party is still unhappy with the decision, an objection may be lodged within 28 days, after which an internal review will take place.
After the interview review decision is made, there may be further grounds for appeal through a specialist division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
If you think an assessment has been calculated incorrectly or that your personal and financial circumstances have not been fully considered, our family law team can assist you with preparing an application for the assessment to be reviewed or lodging an objection.
What happens if my ex-partner won’t pay child support?
If child support is not paid, the agency has the power to collect overdue amounts in a number of ways. Child Support can order automatic deductions from the paying parent’s employment income or income support payments (social security). Alternatively, the agency may work with financial institutions to deduct money from a bank account or make arrangements with the Australian Taxation Office to intercept any tax refunds due.
Child Support can also prevent people from leaving the country while there are outstanding payments.
If you are owed child support or are having difficulty meeting your child support payments, you should contact the agency immediately to try to resolve the matter.
Arrangements between Australia and other countries
Australia has arrangements with several countries known as ‘reciprocating jurisdictions’ and can assist with the management of child support payments between parents living in different countries. This can be a complex process and the efficiency of such arrangements is generally influenced by the other country’s laws and processes.
Special arrangements are in place for the payment and collection of child support payments between Australia and New Zealand.
How can we help?
It is important to understand your legal rights and obligations under child support laws and obtain advice if you are unclear or having difficulty paying or being paid child support. We can assist you with navigating this complex process.